It’s time for Scottish universities to challenge the traditional view of a Scottish degree

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James Fraser, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at the University of the Highlands and Islands


The traditional Scottish university degree is becoming outdated, and according to James Fraser, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Scottish universities must challenge themselves to meet the needs of 21st century students in the global society.

“Today’s students may not want to study for three or four years for a degree, staying and socialising with their peers in one place,” he explained. “They do not have to attend a university to access university degrees.”

With technology leading the globalisation of universities, students can choose to learn from home or work by a mixture of face to face teaching, videoconferencing or online.

“The changes in technology, economic and social change and the globalisation of education have undoubtedly opened up an adaptive space for universities to explore and, perhaps, exploit,” added James Fraser. “Indeed students can access university education free of charge by switching on their laptops, tablets or mobile phones!

“We have the opportunity to stretch and challenge the traditional concepts and paradigms of ‘a university’ in Scotland and beyond; to expand into that adaptive space and in doing so to meet the needs of learners, industry and society on not only a regional basis but also at national and global levels.”

The University of the Highlands and Islands has already gained years of experience of delivering education in this way.

“There is no compelling reason for keeping this a secret within our borders –we can use our delivery mechanism to secure our share of the new global landscape,” added Mr Fraser.

But, he warned, that in this new world Scottish higher education providers have to ensure the education experience they are offering is high quality and connected to the world of work so that the students can compete successfully as employees or as entrepreneurs.

“Scotland has a world acclaimed university system; we punch well above our population weight in teaching and in research. Our quality is excellent and we continue to attract acceptable volumes of students. But Scottish universities compete in this new world of highly accessible global education, where other world famous universities such as Harvard and Oxford already compete for students with iTunes U.

“We cannot simply stand still and continue to offer traditional study options to our students,” he explains. “We have to challenge the paradigm by re-examining what we do and offer our different customers not only what they need and want, but at the time they want it, and at the place they want it and in the way they want it – should that be long part-time study or shorter full-time study based on a 12 month academic year.”

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